Archive for January 2009

Paradigm shift needed #2: waiting room

January 29, 2009

I needed new glasses. I usually go through a friend who owns a small eyewear shop with no in-house optometrist. So I made an appointment with an outside optometrist. I had to wait two weeks to get in. I made the appointment for the morning – 11:15 A.M. – so they wouldn’t be running too far behind. I closed my office and drove to their office. I arrived on time.

At 11:50 – I’d waited 35 minutes – I told the receptionist I was leaving. I apologized, “I have a client of my own – at 12:30 – and I need to be there when she arrives.”

The receptionist also apologized, saying there had been an emergency and the optometrist was running behind.

The last time I went there I waited an hour and ten minutes past my scheduled appointment. I’m sure most readers can come up with a story about how long they waited for a medical provider. Others may think, “That’s the way it is,” implying I should be accepting of this situation.

My point is, even though it is a common occurrence, I am not accepting of it. Consider a hairdresser: high school diploma, no back-up (nurses, aides, etc.), her/his clients showing up late and early, yet you seldom have to wait longer than scheduled. Why can’t a doc, with numerous degrees and support staff, be on time?

“Emergency” is really not the reason. These people are, after all, in the “emergency” business. This is the 21st century, time for business-not-as-usual.

Paradigm shift needed #1: passwords

January 26, 2009

I had a new computer installed in my home office. I called my regular computer guy to install it, along with a printer and some software. I met him at the house to let him in and hung around to watch.

“We need a password…” he said.

“How about ‘Rich?'”

“It should be at least eight characters.”

“Okay, how about ‘RichardG?'”

“It really should be something less obvious, to keep people from breaking in…”

So it went. We needed passwords to log into this function and that program. Three passwords and one user names, alone, just to link my home computer and my business office computer. By the time he left I had a notepad sheet filled with passwords and user names for all the different technical maneuvers I might wish to make during the course of a day. Thanks to passwords, no one will be able to access my documents or system. Including me. Unless I have my notepad list.

Hackers are to computer users what terrorists are to air travelers. We should be able to carry anything onto a jet, write anything on our computer, and not worry about security issues. The concept of a “password” barely existed a generation ago. Now it’s involved in more daily transactions than not. The need to keep bad guys out has enslaved the good guys.

Schadenfreude

January 22, 2009

Schadenfreude is a German term meaning, “taking pleasure in the misery or suffering of another.” Schadenfreude explains why, at the time of Christ, the Romans took pleasure in watching gladiators gored to death by lions. It explains why in the mid-twentieth century, America was enamored with the antics of the Three Stooges, who constantly hurt each other. Schadenfreude explains why, today, curious onlookers gather at an automobile accident; often the more serious the crash, the bigger the crowd.

Sitting at the counter, watching the sidewalk action behind me in the overhead mirror, I am experiencing Schadenfreude. I watch a young man, perhaps seventeen, walk past the diner. His pants are so large and low-hanging he will surely trip over the cuffs and fall. I watch this socially inept individual with what has to be be a warped self-image, work his way down the street – through life – as I might watch him fall and injure himself. This kid is a Stooge driving into a light pole. He’s hurting himself but only the onlookers seem to know it.

I dated a woman whose son wore his pants oversized and hanging off his butt. That was more than ten years ago. Today’s young man on the sidewalk is wearing them even bigger and lower. Where will the pants be in ten more years? Down around the ankles? Or maybe completely off, removed, and pulled along behind on the sidewalk with a leash? 

The waitress looks at me suspiciously, “Why are you smiling?”

“Schadenfreude,” I answer. “No, not on the menu!”

Who “won” the Presidential Election?

January 19, 2009

Inauguration Day is tomorrow. I fully expect to see Barack Obama sworn in as the first Black U.S. President.

As in most elections, there was controversy surrounding the candidates. In Obama’s case, there was the question of his U.S. citizenship, his relative lack of political experience, and the suggestion of terrorist ties implied by his name. Still, he won the election. He beat out a seemingly deserving military veteran. Many people were disappointed by the outcome of the election. Myself and my conservative friends included.

I believe, however, that it’s important to keep one thing in mind. Obama did not win the election. He only ran for President. He only campaigned. His fellow Americans – more than 50% of the electorate voted him in. That’s how he got to be President.

So tomorrow, being sworn in with his hand on the same Bible touched by Abraham Lincoln at his own 1860 inauguration, will not be a young, inexperienced Black man with a questionable place of birth, a shifty-sounding name, and a bunch of liberal movie stars in his back pocket. Standing there will be the culmination of what this country is all about: the freedom to run and the right to vote.

I, myself, will be lining up behind the new President. He is – or will be, starting tomorrow, the leader of my country.

Who won? We did.

The deceitful qualities of glass

January 17, 2009

A cup of coffee, combined with an overheard sentence fragment from a nearby conversation, can get me thinking in overdrive. This morning a woman is talking about her son going to a university where researchers are developing glass that won’t break. “You can hold a bottle of Coke at chest height,” she says, “Drop it on the ground, and it won’t break.”

In my own experience, glass, even everyday, break-when-you-drop-it glass can offer surprises and seemingly supernatural powers.

My office is in a three-story glass and brick building. All summer long birds try to fly through the glass. The same glass that I know costs $200 a panel, these birds, who preceded man’s existence on this planet, do not know it exists. It’s invisble to them. They die from broken necks.

There’s an old cinderblock, now-closed gas station south of the city. It sits along the rural highway on a hillside facing west. At dusk, even in winter, the setting sun reflects flame-red off the windows. It glows so warmly that you swear if you stop your car and walk up to the windows, you will look inside and see a blacksmith working with an open fire. But there hasn’t been a human in that building in decades.

I pay my coffee bill and walk outside the restaurant, now, ready to leave incredulities behind and face my absurd nine-to-five bill-paying existence. A car passes, one window halfway down with a dog’s head protruding. The street scene is reflected off the glass and the dog appears to be without a body, just a very happy, tongue-lolling head.

Headlines! Daily newspaper cuts own throat!

January 15, 2009

Our daily newspaper here in Rochester, the Democrat & Chronicle, is getting thinner and thinner as the weeks go by. Getting thinner as it loses readers and advertisers to electronic news sources.

I’ve watched the newspaper try to attract younger readers with stories about bars and nightclubs. I’ve watched it try to reel in minority readers. It’s no secret they have a “minority photograph ratio” requirement for each issue; an article about this appeared in City, the area’s “alternative” weekly newspaper.

I’ve got news for the people at the newspaper. Older white people read newspapers. Young white people and minorities do not. I used to own a double house in the inner city. The street was 95% black and Hispanic. On trash pick-up day, for the entire length of the street, there were no newspapers in the recycling bins sitting by the curb.

Not only is our daily newspaper wooing uninterested readers, in reducing their page count they recently removed one thing – an edge they have over electronic news media – a crossword puzzle. A puzzle is interactive. The reader can spend all day with the paper doing the puzzle. A crossword is so important, not only shouldn’t it be cut, there should be three different ones in each issue with one on the front page.

Breakfast

January 11, 2009

I’m enjoying an artichoke omelet for breakfast at Gitsis. Sitting at the counter I’m in the midst of three waitresses as they place orders and hurry meals out to their booths. A nearby menu is continually flipped open – with cursing – for a price check. The waitresses are seasoned pros, but a new menu was recently printed with new pricing.

The phone rings; likely a Greek-speaking food disitributor or the teen-aged developmentally disabled son of K, my waitress. It’s a Greek. George, Gitsis’ Greek proprietor, gets on the phone and fires off his order, mixing English food items and Greek quantities: “fish fry – dodeka!”  He hangs up and it rings again – K’s son looking for his lunch money.

“It should be right there on the kitchen table, honey,” she says, rolling her eyes in my direction.

Busy as she is, D reaches in her purse behind the counter and slides me the latest photos of her two toddler grandchildren. I can never remember their names, and I’ve never met them, but I’ve seen their pictures so many times I could pick them out of a crowd.

George’s 26-year-old daughter, the third waitress, stops to tell me about her new job. She wants to break out of the restaurant business. I wrote her resume when she finished beautician school six months ago; she finally landed a part-time position.

I’m enjoying an artichoke omelet. With a side of life.